The developers behind the award-winning action survival game The Last of Us has spent a year and a half teasing fans with an impending sequel - and now, less than five months out from its release, we have a full demo and developer commentary on some of the title's exciting new features. Naughty Dog developers Neil Druckmann, Anthony Newman, Kurt Margenau, and Halley Gross took ten minutes to talk shop about The Last of Us Part II, now officially slated for a February 21st, 2020 launch. So what does the sequel have to add to the experience of its predecessor, and how have the characters changed between games?
PlayStation exclusive The Last of Us was a massive hit when it debuted in 2013. Players took the role of Joel, a survivor in a gritty post-apocalypse overrun with violent mutants (called "Infected") and, worse, ruthless human killers. Joel is paid to smuggle a 14-year-old girl named Ellie across the remnants of the United States. Ellie, for her part, proves to be capable, resilient, and far more empathetic than her protector, and though she and Joel forge a deep bond, their relationship is shaken by the time the credits roll. Though Ellie was playable for a portion of the original game's story, she's been upgraded to the main protagonist of The Last of Us 2, set five years onward during her adulthood. Her story continues along a path of revenge, violence, and danger as she enters a world even more deadly than the one she's survived before.
All of this was known to fans after developer Naughty Dog released the game's first teaser and a gameplay reveal at E3 2018. Now, the team has given us even more to chew on: an extended trailer and full demo exploring how players, through Ellie, will interact with the new and improved game world. In their Inside the Demo commentary, Newman explains that Ellie's natural agility inspired them to improve the sequel's jumping mechanics, which in turn allowed the developers to build a more vertical-friendly environment. Ellie is also able to traverse what Margenau calls "squeeze-throughs," gaps in walls or barriers which allow her to slip between enemy barricades and evade patrols. In addition, the sequel's upgrade and crafting systems have been overhauled, allowing Ellie to learn new crafting recipes, physically interact with her weaponry, and better immerse the player in the playstyle of their choice.
Players will be faced with a new set of challenges, as well. Among the enemies added to The Last of Us 2 are guard dogs, used by certain human factions to track the player's scent, and new forms of Infected like the Shambler - a "lumbering, tankier enemy" reminiscent of the original game's Bloaters - and Stalkers, Infected which are capable of fighting Ellie in hand-to-hand combat, something Druckmann says has been beefed up thanks to the improved physics system. Evading or fighting these enemies will require Ellie to make use of all her skills, and means engaging with the harsh realities of what violence means in this world - Druckmann makes note of the fact that many enemy NPCs have names, and killing them might enrage or demoralize their friends.
As critically and commercially adored as the original game was, The Last of Us 2 has a very big set of shoes to fill. Its engine has remained intact and most of the core gameplay appears to be the same, which might disappoint some critics who felt that the first title was narratively strong but lacked much to offer from a mechanical standpoint. Though Naughty Dog have added multiple new avenues of problem solving, evasion, and crafting, as well as a wider variety of foes to tackle, time will tell if this is enough to shake things up. On the other hand, the grounded, brutal feel of combat in these demos, and the emotionally resonant narrative glimpsed through trailers and interviews, echoes the very qualities that made so many fans fall in love with the franchise. We'll have to discover for ourselves how the sequel compares when The Last of Us 2 hits screens next year.
Source: Naughty Dog